NBC brought back The Marriage Ref for a second season, which premiered last night. It's Jerry Seinfeld's pet project and hosted by his friend and longtime opening act, Tom Papa.
Some people think the very concept is silly, having celebrities -- not particularly known for their ability to maintain their matrimonies -- serve as referees for civilian couples. Especially when the marital spats may seem to be silly themselves. You could argue that most family sitcoms rely on those very premises, though. Besides, The Newlywed Game has done this for decades, just without the starpower. But the thought of becoming a star through a fight with your spouse may produce an actual split in the marriage (see these two New Yorkers from season one). So.
What did The Marriage Ref get right in returning for a second season? For one thing, they actually brought the married couples on set. Before, they were stuck at home and on tape (or closed circuit), getting mocked by celebrities without any ability to even interact with them. The show also made it clearer that all of the couples would earn a vacation, with the studio audience rewarding one couple with $25,000. They got rid of Today correspondent Natalie Morales and her recaps, as well as Marv Albert and his replay commentary. And they even let Ricky Gervais throw a joke at the show by saying he had bet he wouldn't be on it a second time.
What did The Marriage Ref get wrong? Well, the idea of letting celebrities make fun of your marriage remains a bit of a reverse roast, even if you know you're getting paid to be on TV for this privilege. Aren't roasts supposed to be reserved for taking the powerful people down a notch? Also: Among next week's celebrity panelists is Tracy Morgan. I wonder if NBC already has re-edited the tapes on that episode. Can't wait to (not) find out!
If you thought listening to Jerry Seinfeld talk funny for an hour on HBO with Chris Rock, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais was something; if you thought seeing Seinfeld debut his own website today was something; well, this is something else entirely -- a revealing look into Seinfeld's career and thought process, as only a close friend like his stand-up touring & Marriage Ref partner Tom Papa could get.
Which is exactly what you'll be able to hear tonight on SiriusXM's Raw Dog Comedy channel. It's part of a limited-run series of chats called "Come to Papa," and debuts tonight at 6 p.m., with rebroadcasts tomorrow at 4 p.m. and again 9 p.m. (all times Eastern).
For a tease, find out what bit Seinfeld is currently wrestling with to figure out the jokes. What is the deal with tuxedos?
Roll the clip:
This is the holding home page for Jerry Seinfeld's personal site, set to debut on May 6, 2011.
“I really thought, ‘Where’s my stuff going to be when I’m dead?’ Is it just gone for all time? Who could sift through it? I thought, I should filter this out and be the judge of what I thought was good.”
And so he has. Each day, the site will offer a selection of three old video clips hand-picked by Seinfeld, plus links to his tour dates and a mission statement.
Speaking of old video clips, here is perhaps the earliest, from his 1977 appearance on a show called Celebrity Cabaret. Coincidentally, the clip features the joke Seinfeld talks about in the new HBO special Talking Funny with Chris Rock, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais -- the joke about the Roosevelt Island tram and how Seinfeld imagined NYC next building a rollercoaster in "the ghetto."
Ricky Gervais is friends with Louis CK, who is friends with Chris Rock, who is friends with Jerry Seinfeld. Put these four friends together in a room and let them talk shop for 50 minutes about comedy. That's not a show about nothing. That's Talking Funny, which premieres tonight on HBO.
It opens mid-conversation, just like Showtime's The Green Room with Paul Provenza. But unlike that series, this is a one-time affair, without a studio audience or a moderator. Just four famous funny men, well, talking funny. And talking about the business of being funny. Is that going to be funny?
Of course it is. And not just because they're all established comedians. Let's take a look at an extended peek:
Among the other observations they make about their art:
Gervais acknowledges that he got into stand-up to prove that he had earned his keep as a comedian after the success of The Office. Seinfeld alleges that stand-up comedians are the most criticized and judged people, because of the feedback they receive after every joke, and argues that professional critics shouldn't judge comedy unless they know what it is to write "the act." There's talk about cursing, easy laughs, and the clip above leads into a discussion about slurs. They get into an extended riff after Louis CK says he still remembers a singing comic who bombed 25 years ago. Seinfeld recounts an old bit of his about Superman in which he realized the bit only worked because he had used the F-word, and now he doesn't swear at all onstage.
"I sort of disguise jokes. I don't really make jokes. I think of a joke as the minimum amount of words to get to a punchline." -- Ricky Gervais
"That's the problem with so many of these young guys, they think it's all attitude. But it's got to have jokes under this weird persona, under your crazy glasses, under your crazy voice. Whatever gimmick you have. Henny Youngman has to have something to do with it," Chris Rock said. To which Seinfeld added: "You can put all kind of furniture, but you have to have steel in the walls."
Louis CK says that in recent years, he has used his strongest closer as his new opener to force him to write good jokes, prompting Seinfeld to tell Rock, "You see how this kid got good?" There's some mutual love among these guys, and in this first trailer for the screener, you can see that. Roll the clip.
At first, some viewers of this clip wondered if CK was going to call out Seinfeld for doing his bit. But in context, Seinfeld was doing CK's bit, after telling him how much he loved that bit. CK's actual response: "That's a completely Seinfeld-ed version of my joke. You made it nice."
Similarly, in this discussion on early bits, CK and Seinfeld learn that they both used to joke about the grammar and interpretation of street signs. I can think of several other comedians who have plumbed these shallow waters, too. To parallel thinking!
The special ends with them jokingly delivering promos for the 50 minutes. But you already know you should watch this. If you're a comedian. If you're an aspiring comedian. If you're a fan of comedy. If you like to laugh. This may be HBO, but it's also must-see TV.
"Well, there's no question that a lot of the, whatever gifts that I have, came through this strain of DNA. It can't just be a coincidence that I know how to do this; I didn't learn all this, you know what I mean? How to be a comedian, and how to think funny, or talk funny. Some of that was put in me from other Jews. So, you know, I'm grateful for that."
-- Jerry Seinfeld, interviewed for CBS Sunday Morning after hosting the opening of the National Museum of American Jewish History
Related: The full CBS Sunday Morning report.
Jerry Seinfeld stopped by The Tonight Show on Thursday night to perform stand-up comedy and do panel with Jay Leno. In his brief stand-up set, Seinfeld talks about the absurdity of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, the people who "work" in coffeeshops, and the ads for sleep medications. It's all connected.
Roll the clip!
Afterward, Seinfeld caught up with comedian Jimmy Brogan (who used to be the head monologue writer for the Tonight Show), and later also with Leno.
Among the things we learn in this clip: How playing to a Tonight Show audience is different from a club, and how it impacts the jokes and tags you use; that Brogan and Seinfeld both started at the Comic Strip Live in NYC in the mid-1970s; that Seinfeld's first Tonight Show performance was 30 years ago; that Leno borrowed that hideous green suit for his own first appearance for Johnny Carson in 1977; and that Leno unbuttons his shirts too far.
Remember when mashing up clips for funny movie trailers was a meme? Remember all the way back to 2006? Ah, them's the days.
Well, it's 2011, and maybe you're ready for a refresher course, as brought to you in this series of trailers for suspense movies based around the cast of the 1990s hit sitcom Seinfeld. In this one, Jerry Seinfeld is imagined as a power-hungry madman intent on taking over the world. Roll the clip!
But there's more where that came from.
Jerry Seinfeld is such a big guest now that he's not only the first guest on late-night TV, but also does his stand-up before panel as the first guest. Such was the case the other night this week on Late Show with David Letterman.
Seinfeld's set was a variation on a theme he has been performing in theaters for the past year or two, about how our views on what is "great" and what "sucks" is essentially the same. Also, what's the deal with 5-Hour Energy?
Afterward, Seinfeld sat down with Letterman, discussing a trip to the White House to perform for President Obama and Paul McCartney, as well as his involvement in Colin Quinn's new Broadway show, "Long Story Short."
Hey, you there. Yes, you.
Would you like to see Colin Quinn on Broadway in his latest one-man show, "Long Story Short"? Would you like to see that show for free? Well, you may be in luck.
First, watch this video of Anderson Cooper interviewing Colin Quinn and his director, Jerry Seinfeld.
OK. Done yet? Now follow these simple steps.
1) Read this post. You're doing great so far!
2) Leave a comment on this post.
3) In your comment, let me know what historical empire you're most looking forward to hear Colin Quinn joke about and why.
4) Be sure to fill out a valid email when you're commenting so I can contact you.
5) If you've done all of that and left my favorite comment, then you win!
Colin Quinn's "Long Story Short" has its official opening night tonight, with a limited 11-week engagement through January 2011.
You may recall in late September that Jerry Seinfeld went on TV and revealed that the author of the Ted L. Nancy books was Barry Marder. Bruce Baum certainly recalled that moment, because he claims that he co-authored all of the books with Marder, and that Seinfeld should know that.
And now, Bruce Baum has produced a video to prove it. Roll it!
I did go to the U.S. Copyright Office's site to check, and yes, there are the copyrights, submitted in 2006 and approved in 2007. This was the first copyright filed by Baum and Marder.
"You don't consider Curb Your Enthusiasm legit? What do you want from me? Directors chairs, us sitting with Matt Lauer asking questions?"
-- Jerry Seinfeld, responding to an audience member's question about a "legit" Seinfeld reunion, after he dropped in for a surprise stand-up set at the Comedy Cellar over the weekend.
We told you Jerry Seinfeld was going to spill the beans on the Ted L. Nancy books, and spill he did, but not the beans you were looking for -- especially if your name is comedian Bruce Baum, and you've been telling people on your site that you wrote the letters for the "Letters from a Nut" series.
And yet, there Seinfeld was today on NBC's Today, sitting next to comedian Barry Marder instead. Seinfeld told Lauer that they came forward because they had to, saying: "He's the guy who created this whole -- he has written all the letters. He created the character. And there's a lot of people on the Internet that are claiming credit for it, and that started to bother us." Roll tape!
Seinfeld revealed Marder as the source last night on CNN's Larry King Live, and online at CNN.com, Baum's wife, Lynn wrote this in the comments last night as the program aired:
My husband, Bruce Baum and Barry Marder wrote the original three books together at our house in Thousand Oaks! I fed Barry Marder regularly for months as he was here almost everyday. Barry refuses to acknowledge the fact that he and Bruce wrote this book together! I am a teacher and when I came home from school I fed them and they would read me all the letters they wrote that day and the responses they received. The letters were sent to a P.O. Box right near our house in Thousand Oaks. Bruce gave a thank you present to Seinfeld, for writing the forward. Barry was supposed to give it to Jerry. I wrapped it and went with Bruce to deliver it to Barry so he could give it to Jerry. I will testify to this under oath. Apparently Barry never gave it to him. My children and I are witness to the fact that the books were written at our house and Bruce is the co-author. Jerry was not involved with the first book until after it was written and apparently has been lied to regarding Bruce's participation. Jerry is misinformed and needs to get his facts straight.
Marder is listed on IMDB.com alongside Seinfeld and Chuck Martin as creator/writers of a 2008 TV project, "Sincerely, Ted L. Nancy" for Lionsgate that I don't think ever aired.
It's not that the idea is even theirs, anyhow, as I already pointed out. Anyone who remembers the Lazlo Toth books by Don Novello knows this, too. But it is a lucrative collection of books at this point. So I'm sure Seinfeld and Marder knew they had to go public if they wanted to keep profits and residuals from going to anyone else. I'll let you know if I hear more on this story.
UPDATED: Baum told me: "Everything my wife said in her statement is true. I stand behind her statement."
Earlier this week, a CNN press release for Larry King Live promised that Jerry Seinfeld would reveal "one of Hollywood's best kept secrets" on Thursday night's show. This morning, the Today show has hinted that Seinfeld's revelation concerns the identity of letter-writer Ted L. Nancy, with whom Seinfeld has published a few books, including a new collection Seinfeld will be promoting Friday on NBC's Today show.
Unlikely, especially since NBC's online piece promoting Seinfeld's appearance suggests the comedian has been writing under the name Ted L. Nancy the whole time. It notes that Seinfeld wrote in the forward to the most recent collection, All New Letters from a Nut:
“I can conceal the secret no longer. I can’t live with myself.”
Personally, I'm rooting for Seinfeld to announce that Ted L. Nancy actually is Don Novello. You may remember Novello, now 67, as the Saturday Night Live writer who also created and inhabited the character Father Guido Sarducci. But another of Novello's creations in the 1970s was Lazlo Toth, who a generation before Ted L. Nancy, wrote letters to unsuspecting business owners, politicians and others, from Presidents Nixon and Ford to McDonald's Ray Kroc. Here is a link to part of Lazlo Toth's correspondence with McDonald's in 1974. Preview more of The Lazlo Letters via Google Books. It's great stuff. And it was all done more than two decades before Jerry Seinfeld introduced the world to Ted L. Nancy.
Check out the books for yourself:
Not that there's anything wrong with a Seinfeld writing a book that's similar to another book. Right, Mrs. Seinfeld?
A few months ago, I saw Colin Quinn work out his newest one-man show, an hour-plus in which he laid out evidence of how America might be past its peak as the global superpower, in a way that makes you think about how past empires, and not just the Romans, rose and then fell. And Quinn managed to do somehow include The Three Stooges in all of this. He called it, "The Fall of it All." Don't worry, Quinn told the audience: "It's not all depressing and boring."
Jerry Seinfeld was convinced of that. Seinfeld came on board as Quinn's director, and with a new title, Long Story Short, Quinn has taken his show for a limited run this summer at the Bleecker Street Theatre, through Aug. 14.
Here the two good fellas, previously seen a decade ago talking comedy in the Olive Tree Cafe for Seinfeld's documentary, Comedian, now talking about Quinn's new show:
Here is Seinfeld explaining Quinn's message:
And if you're the kind of person who would like to see a brief example of what the show is about, then watch this clip in which Quinn shows us the difference between colonialism and imperialism based on how they might show up at a pizza joint. Roll it!
If you tune in tonight to TBS for Cedric The Entertainer's Urban Circus, then you'll probably wonder what in the world is going on when Cedric is shooing kids away from a picnic table, only to turn around and find Jerry Seinfeld amble onstage.
Seinfeld, for his part, quips on the special: "I am urban. I was born in Brooklyn." He shares some very old jokes of his, then joins Cedric to re-enact his old bit about driving a space shuttle to the Moon (as pictured above).
What about the rest of the special, you ask?
With all of the talk last week about Betty White anchoring the mother of all Mother's Day editions of Saturday Night Live in May with several former female SNL cast members helping out, it's maybe a good a time as any to talk about the role women play on SNL. Because there are typically so few women in the cast in any year, you'd think that would mean we'd get to see more of them throughout the season. That's not how it tends to work, however. It's almost as if SNL subscribes to a Highlander theory for female cast members: There can be only one. Amy Poehler dominated her final seasons on the show, and when she left, Kristen Wiig soon became seen in multiple scenes with recurring characters. Last night, however, belonged to newcomer Nasim Pedrad. Sign of things to come? Or just a one-off? Something for you to think about, as we get to tonight's recap...
OK. As someone who lives in New York, I've heard more than plenty about newly outed, ahem, Congressman Eric Massa, who left the House because of aggressive tickle fighting? That's a thing? You can get kicked out of Congress for tickling? Well, if it involves your male aides, whom you have live with you, and allegations of sexual harassment, that sounds more serious. Anyhow. I don't think people who live outside of New York and may not be up on the news would need a lot of catching up time -- which is why the cold open's voiceover intro from Bill Hader seemed especially lengthy. You could open with the scene. It's an exit interview. They're going to tell us what happened, anyhow. I can only imagine that the voiceover will become more necessary years from now when this season comes out on DVD and viewers go, oh, what is this about again? Oh, right. This guy. Bobby Moynihan plays Massa, getting debriefed, as it were by Wiig's Congressional bureaucrat. With nothing to hide, Massa happily recounts his 50th birthday party, with tickling by and with aides played by Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader and Will Forte. And, yeah, "snorkeling." Yes. That's right. We get an act-out of oral sex to open the show, followed by footage of a sailor rubbing his crotch. This beats last week's funny-free political opening, but when you have such a gimme with the real-life material, how could it not be? Wait a second. This looks like the "dress rehearsal" version -- in which the opening voiceover appears in an on-screen crawl. Makes more sense? Also: Moynihan's mic did drop out for a couple of seconds in the "live" version. So yes. Makes more sense.
Jude Law is our host again, and quickly reminds us of the last time he hosted, with musical guest Ashlee Simpson and a lip-sync joke. Then he references his starring turn on Broadway playing Hamlet, by boiling down the Shakespearean classic into a quick version -- essentially making sure nobody should bother paying to go see the full version. Though he gets in a gag on Jeremy Piven. And a jab about cell phones going off during Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy. He tells us he's on Twitter during his time offstage? Hmmm.
Our first of a couple of parody ads. Kenan Thompson and Abby Elliott climb into a Toyota Prius. Which immediately speeds out of control. "Did you step on the brakes?" It's...a Ford ad. This felt obligatory.
During the break, two observations. Wow: Comedy Central is putting a ton of money and energy into promoting its new animated series, Ugly Americans. I hope it's good. Also, right before SNL came on my TV, Mercedes aired an ad voiced over by Jon Hamm. Yes. It sounded exactly like Don Draper making an ad campaign pitch to Mercedes. It was so meta, my face melted. What do we think of that? I'll take your answers offline.
The New York Post quoted me yesterday for an article they wanted to write about how Jerry Seinfeld is also a victim of the so-called "Seinfeld curse," except my opinions didn't exactly jibe with their premise.
You see, in my world-view, Jerry Seinfeld simply loves being a stand-up comedian -- his sitcom was even about Jerry Seinfeld being a stand-up comedian -- and as I pointed out to the reporter, that sitcom got panned at its start before everyone decided they loved it more than any other sitcom. His documentary, Comedian, earned him even more respect in the comedy community. And anything he has done since then, outside of touring (the Post reporter didn't know that Seinfeld has been touring theaters regularly each year), has been because of an idea he has had that he wanted to see become a reality. So this new vanity project, The Marriage Ref, should be seen in that light. Anyhow. The trades are reporting today that last night's one-hour "debut" of the show pulled in half of the audience of its Olympic-sized sneak preview, but still won the 10 p.m. Thursday hour in the demo over The Mentalist and Private Practice.
It's still far from perfect. And I wish that Tom Papa got to do more. He is the host, after all. But in the past week of big promotional pushing -- from Oprah to Letterman and everywhere else -- Seinfeld continues to be the face of The Marriage Ref. It's his show. NBC knows people want to see him. So he gets all the face time. In the case of Letterman this week, Seinfeld also reminded us that he's first and foremost a stand-up comedian, doing a new routine (in the middle of the show) before doing panel talk with Dave. Roll the clip.
A very strange thing happened on Sunday night. Jerry Seinfeld introduced a new show on NBC and virtually nobody seemed to like it!
Wait. That's not strange. That happened before, when The Seinfeld Chronicles pilot appeared many summers ago, only to blossom into Seinfeld in the 1990s and make everyone think he invented the sitcom.
But what about this "hybrid" of a show called The Marriage Ref? NBC short-circuited its coverage of the closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver just to make sure we saw a half-hour preview of the series as scheduled at 10:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. And roughly 14.5 million people kept the channel on for the half-hour, which is a healthy amount of viewers these days, until you realize that even more people watched CBS at the same time to watch the boss of White Castle ruin his buns. That literally happened. More amazing was the instantly critical reaction to The Marriage Ref, as chronicled by Brian Stelter of the New York Times into insta-bad-buzz, and then today we've already got my former colleague David Hinckley at the New York Daily News trying to fix the show before its proper debut on Thursday. Can it be saved? Does it even need to be saved already?
What I do know is this: Of the 607 people I follow currently on Twitter, only one person had anything nice to say about the premiere episode. That was Dylan Gadino, who runs Punchline Magazine. Ahem. Let me just say this in his defense: Gadino is married. Many of the people who I saw hating the show are single. I am divorced. Please get your laughter out now before I resume.
OK. Ready to continue? Good. Remember earlier how I showed you some behind-the-scenes previews and meetings about the show? My sense all along is that Seinfeld took this basic premise -- married couples are insane, and there are many millions of them who sit at home at night watching TV, who would undoubtedly relate to more insane married couples getting mocked about their insanity -- and ran with it. That said, some things about the premiere were downright embarrassing and absurd. One of those things is not the inclusion of divorced celebrities. As a divorcee myself, I can see how anyone who has failed at marriage would feel even freer about weighing in on a couple's dispute -- and Alec Baldwin proved this with some great wit on Sunday. But. The animated introduction was unnecessary, indulgent and just plain wrong (as others have mentioned already, baseball doesn't even have refs, and nice limo!). Bringing in Natalie Morales from NBC "News" with the "facts" is supposed to lend credibility, but does the exact opposite. And having Marv Albert recap what we already saw three times in 20 minutes, considering it's Marv Albert of all relationship experts, is beyond dumb. As for letting celebrities mock regular people, well, sure that seems too smug, and maybe if you had the real couples in the studio for more interaction or introduced celebrity couple spats, it'd be more compelling. Tom Papa seemed perfectly fine as the host, although the series and network could have, would have, should have properly introduced him to the viewers and given him more to do and say. Maybe have him tell us the facts instead of Morales. I don't know. NBC and the producers were so set upon telling us this was the return of Seinfeld that everything else seemed like an afterthought. Which is likely why the debut made such a bad impression.
NBC has been running new ads for its upcoming show, The Marriage Ref, and by the initial looks of it -- plus reports back to me from people who have been in the studio audience -- there will be some funny unscripted moments as the celebrities and comedians weigh in on the various married couples and their idiotic arguments.
The network also has unveiled some additional new promo videos online to generate interest in the show, which debuts with a preview episode Feb. 28 following the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies before settling into a regular 10 p.m. Thursday time slot. Here, for instance, is executive producer Jerry Seinfeld warming up the studio audience (following who appears to be Martha Stewart's warm-up guy) with some of his stand-up material about marriage, and introducing host, longtime friend and his opening act on tour, Tom Papa.
Then we get to see an extended short film of Seinfeld and Papa ice fishing (previously seen on TV in a 30-second spot) spliced in with clips from the show.
And here is a look at an early production meeting with Seinfeld, Papa and the staff, in which Seinfeld describes how "living together" is much different from being married, when talking about one potential couple on the show. "They're still rookies!" Seinfeld said. "I don't want to see people take BP. I want to see them in the game!" Agree?
Want more? Two more behind-the-scenes videos after the jump...